STAKEHOLDERS have welcomed Erla Christopher’s appointment as TT’s new Commissioner of Police and the first woman in the country’s history to fill the seat of top cop.
But they warn that she will have some tough times ahead in not only attempting to rebrand the image of the Police Service but in minimising the fear of crime among a citizenry desperate for solutions.
On Friday, Christopher was unanimously approved by the Parliament as the country’s next Commissioner of Police.
Criminologist Prof Ramesh Deosaran said Christopher assumes the position at “a very critical time” in the country given the state of public fear.
“It is not only the statistics but the epidemic of public fear of crime with the mounting increase not only in murders, which crossed 600 last year, but the increasing number of home invasions,” he told Sunday Newsday.
“So this means the right to private property is being severely attacked in a society that is supposed to be democratic. It means, therefore, that this new commissioner would have to save the democracy of the country in specific ways – the first being to remove the widespread fear in the public mind because with that fear, all other freedoms and rights will diminish.”
Deosaran said Christopher’s task will not just be to “look at statistics and hold meetings in Port of Spain headquarters,” but to help restore and maintain the challenges of democracy in the country.
Apart from that, he said, Christopher must address two specific areas simultaneously.
Deosaran said she has to look at the human resource capacity with the Police Service, specifically the efficiency and effectiveness of its middle managers – sergeants and inspectors.
“Middle management has been lacking. So they have to improve their performance and she has to demand further accountability at that middle level, otherwise she will face the brunt of public criticism whereas she doesn’t deserve it in the sense that the others lower down have not been doing their job properly.”
Deosaran, a former independent senator and former chairman of the Police Service Commission, said Christopher also has to generate a new system for community policing.
Saying she must spend some time doing leg work, he said, “The idea of having a commissioner walking around with big gun, AK-47, and everyday in the newspapers, those days are finished. It has to have a more modernised management at the top and that means she has to look at getting solid, sustainable partnerships with the various communities.”
For example, Deosaran said the crime situation in far-flung, rural areas such as Toco would be different from that of Diego Martin, or even Couva and Cedros.
“She has to have a more specific approach to strategic planning in terms of public safety.”
He argued that without citizens’ support at the community policing level and responses to support policing by citizens, police performance will not reach the heights that they expect.
“In democratic policing, which I am talking about, the partnership between the citizens and the police is vital and that will equal, sometimes more than the technology, the support of the citizens in giving proper reports, which is very vital.”
Deosaran said the front desk in the police station must also accompany this requirement by providing rapid responses to citizens’ complaints.
Describing Christopher’s challenges as “serious,” Deosaran said he believes she is capable given her experiences and training in law enforcement, intelligence gathering and strategic planning.
“She is properly trained and must now execute the performance to be compatible with the training that she has, which is quite extensive.”
Christopher, he said, must execute that performance in a manner that will rebuild public confidence in the Police Service.
Deosaran urged the public to welcome her with the fullest support possible so as to “lift her morale, confidence and courage.”
Former director of the National Heritage Library Pearl Eintou Springer hailed Christopher’s ascent to the pinnacle of the police service but said crime will not be solved solely through the appointment a new police commissioner.
Springer observed there were “deep-seated, rooted” causes to crime, especially among the young African male population.
The cultural activist argued that the education system is also failing in not providing them with a sense of self, which, she believes, is a major contributor to crime.
She believes there has also been a paucity of ways for them to express and identify with their heritage through a monument or any recognition of the history and contribution of African peoples to the society.
“Whoever the commissioner is will not help the crime. There has to be deep-seated responses and efforts to bridge that gap. There must be fundamental changes.”
Springer said citizens must begin to treat black people children as human beings.
“They must have a stake in the society and feel like a part of it, as if the contribution of their ancestors is recognised.”
She said she is at a loss as to why people cannot understand why crime is so bad.
“I wish Erla well. But I am saying that fundamental changes need to be made in the areas where African people children live, in the schools where they are, in terms of recognition and visibility.”
Gender Affairs scholar and newspaper columnist Dr Gabrielle Hosein welcomed Christopher’s history-making accomplishment.
“All firsts are significant as women are still breaking the glass ceiling, the level of seniority which they could see but never reach because it was reserved for men,” she told Sunday Newsday via WhatsApp.
“The appointment of Erla Christopher is worthy of celebration. It’s also worthy that her appointment was widely supported by both sides of the House. I expect that for women in the police force, seeing this first must be inspirational as it should be.”
But Hosein noted that historically, women usually come into such leadership when there are established problems to solve, whether in relation to crime or other issues, like climate change.
Saying that these were problems that developed over periods when women did not have power over their response to solutions, she added, “We must keep in mind that the problem of crime and justice cannot be solved quickly or easily so realistic expectations are necessary.”
Hosein said women also experience what is called the “glass cliff,” in that they are few and far between at the top and yet are seen as a sex to not be competent when they cannot make miracles, “as women are often expected to do."
In such situations, she said, society loses faith in womens’ different approaches and capabilities.
“The terrain for success and failure is always gendered and the problems of crime and justice remains one that fundamentally intersect masculinity.”
Criminologist Darius Figuera said Christopher’s appointment as police commissioner is a sign that TT has “finally entered the 21st century.”
He said she must now rise to the challenge.
“What we expect now is that Ms Christopher will exhibit all the leadership qualities that are demanded for the realities that we find ourselves in on a daily basis.”
Figuera believes Christopher is quite capable of fulfilling her mandate.
“I know for a fact that she does in fact have the desired leadership qualities and the knowledge base necessary for the job in this present juncture in our history. So, I am very, very assured with the appointment.”